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Thyme & Sage Ranch Investigation:

In Depth from THE RICHLAND OBSERVER, May 28, 2009

One of the dogs confiscated from Thyme and Sage Ranch.
(Click on photo for a larger view)

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NOTE: On February 21, 2011, Jennifer Petkus stood for trial for what became an 18-day trial. On March 10, 2011, the jury returned a verdict, finding Petkus guilty of certain of the misdemeanor charges, including intentionally mistreating animals, failing to provide water to certain animals, and providing insufficient sanitation. Petkus lodged an aggressive defense and was found not guilty of certain other charges. On April 28, 2011, the Court withheld its sentence on the six counts for which Petkus was convicted and sentenced her to three years of probation, to be served concurrently. The Court further ordered Petkus to pay the costs of supervision, court costs, and restitution and disallowed her from owning any further animals other than those then on the property by agreement with authorities.


       The Thursday, May 28, 2009, edition of The Richland Observer carried a series of detailed, well-researched articles on the investigation into Thyme and Sage Ranch. These articles cover the background and legal aspects of the case, as well as an in-depth examination of all of the complaints against Jennifer Petkus. Because The Richland Observer does not yet have the ability to post articles online, editor Editor Ryan Billingham ( has granted us permission to reproduce them for you on our website.

 pawprint bullet point   In Depth: The Thyme and Sage Ranch   pawprint bullet point

 pawprint bullet point   Sheriff's Department continues probe into operation   pawprint bullet point   Legal troubles mount for Petkus    pawprint bullet point

 pawprint bullet point   Further Media Resources   pawprint bullet point


Tiny blue paw print bullet point   In Depth: The Thyme and Sage Ranch

Reports of gruesome sights, smells at ‘rescue’ ranch

(Story by Dawn Kiefer, courtesy of The Richland Observer, Editor Ryan Billingham (

       Note: graphic details in this report may be disturbing to some readers.

One of the more than 300 dogs confiscated from Thyme and Sage Ranch on 19 May 2009.        When customers of Thyme and Sage Ranch begin telling their personal stories a recurring scenario presents itself: the customer buys a dog, usually a puppy, and it dies within a few days or becomes severely ill and the customer spends hundreds, even thousands, of dollars in an often vain effort to save it.

       Many customers claim Thyme Sage and Ranch owner Jennifer Petkus told them that it was they who were at fault and even blamed the animal's poor health or death on the customer's own veterinarian.

       Several say Petkus told them they were the first customers to make such complaints against her. Some took dogs back to Petkus, but say they were refused a refund.

       An Internet search will bring up several sites on which people lodge complaints about Petkus and Thyme and Sage Ranch and, while there are some postings that praise the operation, at least one woman who claims to have bought a dog from Petkus that promptly died is not persuaded by any positive postings.

       Penny Evans, of Rockford, Ill., is a disabled former police officer who discovered Thyme and Sage Ranch on the Web site.

       She says she bought a small puppy from Petkus a year ago and it died within a week

       Evans describes herself as Thyme and Sage's "loudest victim." She has been relentless in efforts to bring Petkus's operation to the attention of the courts and, she says, that efforts by herself and others like her have led to Thyme and Sage Ranch being banned from listing animals on

       Evans is skeptical about the positive reviews online and stated that no identification is necessary to post on the sites she's viewed.

       She is urging anyone who may have purchased a dog from Thyme and Sage Ranch to participate in a legal case she is currently developing.

       Several disgruntled customers have come forth to speak about their experiences with Petkus and Thyme and Sage Ranch.

       Petkus herself was contacted by phone message, which was not returned, and when asked in person to comment on the allegations of Thyme and Sage customers at the Richland County Courthouse she declined to comment.

       However, those who feel victimized by Petkus's business practices are commenting.

Similar sad stories

       Judy Martinson of Mt. Horeb and a friend went to Thyme and Sage Ranch in November 2008 and each left with a puppy. Martinson says her friend paid $275 for her dog, a nine-week-old Chihuahua, which died of Parvo Virus just days later- after the friend had spent $800 trying to save it. Martinson says her friend did get the adoption fee back.

       Martinson chose a six-month-old poodle that cost $175 and it, too, became ill within a few days. Martinson says the efforts of her veterinarian saved the dog's life, for a total cost of $2,050.

       She also says her vet asked if the dog came from Thyme and Sage Ranch, stating that three or four sick dogs had come to that clinic in the few days prior to Martinson's visit.

       Joan (Buddy) Borland of Hub City says she bought a year-old beagle in April at Thyme and Sage Ranch. When she was there, she went inside a house on the property, which she says was filled with dogs.

        "The house smelled so bad. It was a filthy mess up there," she says.

       Borland says that, while she was in the house, another prospective dog buyer-a man-came into the house and immediately went outside and vomited.

       Borland says she paid $60 for the dog even though it smelled so bad that she had to thoroughly clean her car after transporting it. Over the next three days the dog "threw up something terrible and made bowel movements that were very oily and smelly," she says.

       Borland called her veterinarian and he asked if the dog came from Thyme and Sage Ranch. She says he advised her to return the dog because he suspected it had Parvo Virus and said it could cost her thousands of dollars to attempt to save it. Borland says she called Petkus, who picked up the dog but wouldn't provide a refund.

       Karin Gunderson, whose parents live in Richland County, purchased a seven-week-old beagle/Boston terrier mix for $150 at Thyme and Sage Ranch in February. A couple of weeks later the dog had a mysterious ailment, which resulted in it being unable to walk on its back legs.

       Gunderson says the dog survived after being treated with antibiotics, but she was concerned about the cost. As a longtime customer of the veterinarian she was given a break.

        "I'm very grateful the vet helped us through it," she says.

       After Petkus purchased a horse from the daughter of Robin DeFabbio of rural Richland Center, DeFabbio and her daughter decided to volunteer at Thyme and Sage Ranch.

        "Probably during my first hour there I realized things weren't what they should be," DeFabbio says.

       DeFabbio and her daughter stayed on for three-and-a-half months- from August through November of 2007. She says they mainly worked in a large shed that, at that time, held 50 to 60 dogs. Alongside the shed was an enclosure that held additional dogs.

       On their first day at the ranch DeFabbio says they used pitchforks and a scraper to remove straw that was weighted down with urine and feces. She says there were "layers and layers" of straw, which led down to a final layer of writhing maggots.

       For the remainder of the time they volunteered there, the two went once a week to replace soiled straw.

       DeFabbio says that she would tell Petkus about problems, including a dog that was obviously being attacked by another dog.

        "She wouldn't listen and take advice from people who wanted to help," DeFabbio says.

       In November she'd arrive to find the water dishes frozen over and the hose frozen, too. She says she'd find dead rats in water pails and would see short-haired dogs outside freezing.

        "The battle became huge," DeFabbio says. "We went in with intentions to help animals, but we felt like we were enabling her (Petkus) and not making a difference."

       Still, DeFabbio was sad to stop going there.

        "We got very attached to the dogs. They were so excited to see us," DeFabbio says.

       Phyllis Pauls, who runs the spay/neuter clinic for Ocooch Mountain Humane Society, says that, until the end of last year, she was in charge of the telephone contacts to OMHS. Over the previous two years, she received a steady stream of calls with complaints about Thyme and Sage Ranch. She says that near the end of December every call she got indicated the dog died. Prior to that, she says, "If puppies didn't die they were extremely ill and the owner spent hundreds to thousands of dollars to get the puppies well."

       Pauls says callers told her that, when they contacted Thyme and Sage Ranch to complain about their sick or dead dogs, Petkus told them they didn't know what they were doing nor did their veterinarians.

       In all cases, Pauls referred the callers to the Richland County Sheriff's Department.

       An area vet tech says that she and others employed at an area vet clinic started monitoring Thyme and Sage Ranch listings on during 2008 because they were alarmed at the number of dogs listed by that establishment.

       The vet tech says Thyme and Sage Ranch was barred from listing animals, but then listings were placed under the heading "Richland County Animal Control."

       Around the same time, the vet tech says her vet clinic started seeing animals in bad shape, which the owners said were purchased from Thyme and Sage Ranch. "It got to where we were seeing one to three extremely sick puppies per week," she says.

       Polly Cisco, who owns Under One Woof of Richland Center, says people have called her, to tell her about dogs from Thyme and Sage that were very sick or had died. Cisco says the people told her Petkus stated to each of them: "You're the only one who ever complained."

       Subsequently, Cisco says, she advised people to not go there and claims Petkus called her, threatened to sue her for slander and ordered her to never step foot on her property.

       The property consists of 116.35 acres, according to the Richland County Real Property Lister, who states that Petkus initially purchased 36.35 acres in June 2001 from John Whalen. In March of 2007, she purchased 40 acres from Karen Arvold and, in April 2008, she purchased 40 acres from Freeman Decorah.

Gruesome scene

       John Whalen says that, before she purchased the land from him, Petkus lived in California. He says her parents, Jim and Mary Petkus, who at that time resided near Antioch, Ill., saw his property listed online and came to see it several times. After initial telephone contact, Jennifer Petkus came to see the property, purchased it and moved here, he says.

       Whalen says Petkus brought a number of dogs, cats and horses with her from California.

        "There has been an ongoing issue with dead animals around," he says.

       Whalen, who still owns adjoining land, says a couple of years ago around Memorial Day there were four dead horses stacked like cordwood about 15 feet from a shed on adjoining land. Near the horses was a flat trailer loaded with dozens of small dead animals, including dogs, cats, goats and sheep. He says that the carcasses were in place for about a week and that the stench was so bad he couldn't bring himself to enter the shed across the fence.

        Whalen says he complained to her about it. He told her, "You don't show much respect for your neighbors to have all these dead animals here." Her response was to laugh it off, he says.

       Whalen also states that, in the eight years Petkus has owned the land, a manure pile has grown to 30' by 60' and that there are, or were, dead animals in it.

       He says the stench is so horrible he has to close his vehicle windows and turn off the air conditioning when he drives by. When officials raided the ranch on May 19 he watched as investigators were digging through the manure pile, with a pile of bones on the ground nearby.

       Bob Novak, a neighbor who lives across the road from the ranch, says he has lived with noise in recent years. Before the raid and subsequent impounding of over 300 dogs, he said it was impossible to sit on the porch or sleep with the windows open because of the constant barking. The metal shed many of the dogs were held in amplified the noise, he says.

       Chuck Keller of the Westford Town Board says the board has received complaints over the years, which were referred to the Richland County Sheriff's Department. The complaints were about the number of animals, animal disposal, and noise.

       Jordan Crump, public relations officer for the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), who was present during the May 19 raid on Thyme and Sage Ranch, says that, of the various animals found on site,"the dogs were in the worst shape of the bunch."

       She says about six were on the brink of death that day and, if others had been left there, the number would have grown.

        Ten or so miniature horses were impounded due to hoof problems and worm infestation and were taken to Pinto Palace rescue in Cottage Grove. However, the standard horses on site were generally in better condition than some of the other animals at the ranch, she says.

       About 20 rabbits were confiscated, as were some ferrets, chinchillas, and a few exotic birds that were distressed and pulling out their own feathers.

       The dogs were taken to the Dane County Humane Society and the ill ones were quarantined in special tents. Crump says tests are being conducted to determine the extent of their diseases, which may include Parvo Virus.

       Crump rates conditions at Thyme and Sage Ranch at about seven on a scale of one to ten.

        "It's definitely a major case," she says.

       The Richland Observer will continue its coverage as events unfold and welcomes calls or e-mails with information about Thyme and Sage Ranch or its owner, Jennifer Petkus.

       Persons interested in Penny Evans' efforts should contact her at



Tiny blue paw print bullet point   Sheriff's Department continues probe into operation

(Courtesy The Richland Observer, Editor Ryan Billingham (

This little dog, confiscated from Thyme and Sage Ranch on 19 May 2009, was too terrified to come out of his carrier when taken to the safety of the Dane County Humane Society.       Richland County Sheriff Darrell Berglin said that a total of 373 animals were impounded from the Thyme and Sage Ranch after his deputies served a search warrant in rural Cazenovia on Tuesday morning, May 19. The sheriff confirmed that various horses were being evaluated at the facility with a deputy present.

       The sheriff verified that his deputies had been investigating the facility earlier, most recently in April and in mid-May.

       "This latest activity, the search warrant we executed, is another chapter in an ongoing process to try to determine exactly what condition the dogs and animals were in, at the facility," Berglin said. "Now that the dogs and the other animals have been evaluated by animal health care professionals we are expanding our investigation and checking out new leads that have surfaced since the animals were impounded."

       The sheriff confirmed that Richland County, prior to the search warrant, had a contract with the facility to pick up stray dogs in the county. However, after reviewing the March and April 2009 stray dog pick-up reports submitted by the facility, he believes that less than five stray dogs from March and April combined were in the total of 322 dogs found at the facility on May 19.

       Jennifer Petkus, 38, Cazenovia, appeared in Richland Circuit Court on Wednesday, May 20, and was presented with various misdemeanor criminal charges related to improper shelter for animals, mistreatment of animals and the unlawful deposit of animal carcass. Petkus remains free on a $10,000 signature bond with numerous bail conditions, including the prohibition of purchasing or acquiring any animals during the time of the bond and a stipulation that she must allow any law enforcement and various animal welfare organizations listed to examine animals at Thyme and Sage Ranch.

       The sheriff said that investigation is continuing and that Richland County District Attorney Andrew Sharp is evaluating possible additional charges.



Tiny blue paw print bullet point   Legal troubles mount for Petkus

Thyme and Sage Ranch owner in court twice last week for criminal, civil cases

(Courtesy The Richland Observer, Editor Ryan Billingham (

Some of the 300 dogs confiscated from Thyme and Sage Ranch. These are about to embark on the next step of their journey to their new homes.       Jennifer Petkus of Westford Township's Thyme and Sage Ranch found herself in the Richland County Courtroom twice last week-the first time to have her bail set in the aftermath of a raid at her ranch and the second time to be defended in a civil case brought against her in a related issue.

       On May 20, Petkus, 38, was charged with 16 counts, as follows: a misdemeanor alleging poor sanitation at an animal shelter; 10 misdemeanor counts of intentionally mistreating animals; and five forfeiture counts of improperly disposing of animal At her initial hearing on the 16 counts, Petkus was represented by attorney Jay M. Englund.

       A $10,000 Signature Bond was ordered, with extensive conditions imposed. Petkus was not allowed to return to the property until the search warrant was completed, which was expected to be by late last Wednesday. She must allow law enforcement officers, animal cruelty officers, and veterinarians on her land to care for animals and examine the property. She must agree to address the problems and provide proper care for the remaining animals on her property, after 373 were impounded. She must agree to not argue with or harass any officers, must not purchase any animals, must halt breeding, and must not run a rescue operation.

       Richland County District Attorney Andrew Sharp stated that, as an eight year county resident and the sole owner of her property, she has sufficient contact with the county to make a $10,000 Signature Bond sufficient to ensure that she won't flee the area. Attorney Englund had no objections to the Signature Bond or its conditions, but he did state, "Some animals alleged to have been mistreated were recent arrivals."

       Petkus's arraignment was set for 1 p.m. on May 29.

       After the hearing, D.A. Sharp stated that he had been contacted in mid-April by representatives of the Dane County Humane Society and the Humane Society of the United States. He said they brought him information and evidence they had put together as well as reports from veterinarians and letters from individuals who had purchased dogs from Thyme and Sage which soon after died of Parvo Virus. He said, at that point, time was needed to coordinate further investigation, as ASPCA representatives needed to clear their schedules and the big forensic unit was out west. He said when everything was in place, the search warrant was obtained and the raid carried out.

       During the civil suit brought against Jennifer Petkus on May 22, she was represented by John Orton, another attorney in Englund's office, as Englund was not available that day.

       The plaintiff, Lisa Snell, brought forth the suit in the aftermath of the death of a puppy she had purchased from Thyme and Sage Ranch, which died shortly after its purchase of disease Snell states originated at the ranch.

       Although Snell submitted her evidence to the Richland County Court several months ago, Circuit Court Judge Edward Leineweber noted that Petkus was not obligated to have presented her case prior to the day of the civil case's hearing. According to Attorney Orton, all of Petkus's records were seized in the days prior to the hearing, rendering her unable to present them. Additionally, he said, she originally had not planned to have a lawyer present for the civil suit. However, he said, in view of changing events, she now deems it necessary to have one and the lawyer had no time to prepare a case. Thus, the defendant, Petkus, requested a continuation of the case and Judge Leineweber agreed. The judge also pointed out that the hour which had been allotted for the case on Friday clearly would not have been enough time, stating that this case would take anywhere from four to eight hours to be resolved.

       The new civil case date has been set for Nov. 23, with a final pretrial set for Nov. 12.

       Attorney Orton made a motion to file an amended answer and the judge also allowed Snell the opportunity to amend her complaint.

       Responding to questions that have arisen as to state law on crimes against animals, D.A. Sharp provided this newspaper with a copy of "Selected Excerpts from the Wisconsin Criminal Statutes." Therein, it can be found that provisions are made that animals must be provided with proper food and drink as well as proper shelter. There is no further elaboration when it comes to food, other than "(it) shall be sufficient to maintain all animals in good health." As for shelter, minimum standards are detailed, including space requirements and sanitation, including "periodic cleaning to remove excreta and other waste materials, dirt and trash so as to minimize health hazards."

       Area people have questioned whether county authorities checked on conditions at Thyme and Sage Ranch and the answer is that they did. However, it remains to be determined whether officials from the Richland County Board and officers from the Richland County Sheriff's Department were allowed access to all areas of the operation. Additionally, when the officials and officers were shown particular areas it appeared as though the standards of the law as set out above were in place.

       Officials of the Richland County Board, who awarded Petkus with the contract to pick up stray dogs for the county, state that they conducted an examination of the area before awarding her the contract and that the operation appeared to be in order. Further, they stated that the contract actually extends to "virtually any animal" that is deemed a nuisance and needs to be removed from an area.

       Still, the Richland County Sheriff's Department reports that, during the months of March and April, the only animals Petkus was asked to pick by the county were "less than five stray dogs."

       Discovered at Thyme and Sage Ranch on May 19 were 340 dogs, as well as horses, miniature horses, llamas, goats, rabbits, ferrets, foxes, and more. Many of the animals were impounded that day and the investigation continues.



Tiny blue paw print bullet point   Further Resources:



 pawprint bullet point   Thyme and Sage Ranch Investigation Introduction   pawprint bullet point

 pawprint bullet point   Thyme and Sage Ranch: Overview   pawprint bullet point   In Depth: Personal Stories About Thyme and Sage Ranch   pawprint bullet point

 pawprint bullet point   Operation Freedom 200   pawprint bullet point   Participating Shelters   pawprint bullet point

 pawprint bullet point    Criminal Complaint against Jennifer Petkus (pdf)   pawprint bullet point

 pawprint bullet point   Animal Hoarding: Overview    pawprint bullet point   Reporting Suspected Animal Cruelty   pawprint bullet point   Filing a Complaint Against a Dog seller/ Shelter   pawprint bullet point

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